NL West at All-Star break: Machado swings division in Dodgers’ favor
Through all of the Arizona Diamondbacks’ ups and downs in the 2018 season, one piece of steadiness has been a competitive National League West.
Currently 0.5 games out of first place, the D-backs will have to chase the Los Angeles Dodgers coming out of the All-Star break while also dealing with the Colorado Rockies and San Francisco Giants. The difference in that race could very well be Manny Machado, who the Dodgers acquired from the Baltimore Orioles Wednesday afternoon.
With that being said, there’s a lot of movement left in the division standings after a lot of shifting has occurred already. Where are the teams currently coming back from the season’s intermission?
Here’s a look at the four teams in the hunt, focusing on their overall season outlook and how they have been performing in the month of July.
Los Angeles Dodgers: 53-43
What a turnaround for the Dodgers, and at this point, is anyone really all that surprised?
They entered June with a 26-30 record but since that point have gone 27-13.
Looking at July specifically, the Dodgers’ pitching has been their driving force.
They are tied for the best ERA, 2.74, in baseball for that stretch of games. Rich Hill’s 4.15 ERA is the worst of the team’s starters in the month. Kenta Maeda (1.54), Clayton Kershaw (2.41) and Ross Stripling (2.50) are keeping their rotation strong.
Yasmani Grandal and Matt Kemp have been the saving grace for an underwhelming group of hitters.
Grandal hit .181 in May and .162 in June before exploding to bat 14-for-34 (.412) in July.
Kemp, an All-Star, is hitting .310 this year and is still going strong this month with a .348 average.
For an X-factor the rest of the way, it has to be third baseman Justin Turner.
After hitting .322 last season, Turner struggled coming back from a spring injury, posting a .258 average on the season with one three-hit game since the start of June.
For the Dodgers, their pitching will always be the focal point with Kenley Jansen also having another dominant season closing games, but which way the momentum of their bats swings will dictate their position in the standings.
Manny Machado sure helps push that momentum in the right direction.
The superstar shortstop is having a career year, posting career highs in batting average (.315), on-base percentage (.387) and slugging percentage (.575). All of that adds up to his OPS of .963 being nearly .200 higher than his .782 mark last year.
With the addition of Machado, the Dodgers acquire the best possible solution for their biggest need and become the overwhelming favorites in the NL West.
Arizona Diamondbacks: 53-44 (0.5 games back)
The D-backs’ inconsistent roller coaster of a season continued in July. They went 6-8 before the All-Star break, a surprising number considering how three of their most important players came back after missing more than a month due to injury.
A.J. Pollock was an MVP candidate before he hurt his thumb and has yet to regain that form. He’s hitting .250 in July, but the All-Star break could have been exactly what he needed to re-assess the final stretch of the season.
Steven Souza Jr.’s return from a pectoral injury netted only a .235 average, which was actually an improvement on his .163 number on the season prior to his return.
Then, there is Robbie Ray, the D-backs’ best pitcher in 2017. Ray pitched six shutout innings in his return on June 27 against the Marlins, but in his first three starts of this month, he has allowed 12 earned runs in 14.2 innings. Ray now has a 5.03 ERA on the season.
Luckily for Arizona, its two most important players have been hot. In Paul Goldschmidt’s 14 games of July, he’s hitting a blistering .377. Pitcher Zack Greinke is also in form, posting a 1.93 ERA through his three July starts.
The bullpen — oh, the bullpen. Brad Boxberger, Andrew Chafin and Archie Bradley have allowed only one earned run over 23.2 innings. On the flip side, the group’s MVP entering the month, Yoshihisa Hirano, has five earned runs to his name in just 4.1 innings after a historic scoreless innings streak. Jorge De La Rosa has also had a rough go in July, giving up eight earned runs in 7.1 innings.
The theme of the month — and season — has been the team’s batting order, starting rotation and bullpen having red-hot and ice-cold performances littered throughout.
Look for the D-backs to try and sync up those groups to find more consistency. That will be their key to winning the division.
Colorado Rockies: 51-45 (2.0 games back)
The Rockies are not a difficult bunch to sort out. They have been on fire in July. Colorado is 10-3, tied for the best ERA in the month and have the best batting average.
Nolan Arenado (.312 batting average), Gerardo Parra (.297), Trevor Story (.292) and Charlie Blackmon (.287) lead one of the league’s best group of bats.
That’s not even mentioning D.J. LeMahieu, who is a career .300 hitter currently underperforming to a .280 number at the plate.
Ditto for Ian Desmond and a .265 lifetime average dropping to .235 this year.
The danger sign for the rest of division is that all those guys are starting to get going together.
Five of those six bats are hitting above .300 in July and that doesn’t include Carlos Gonzalez, who is hitting .341 in 12 games this month. Parra is the lone man out and he’s still at a more than fine .270 batting average.
As always, it comes down to pitching, and that’s another area the Rockies are starting to surge. German Marquez (2.25 ERA), Kyle Freeland (2.08) and Tyler Anderson (1.35) all pitched outstanding over the last three weeks. That’s a marketable improvement over a 4.31 ERA for Rockies starters in 2018. They could also receive a boost from ace Jon Gray, who was sent down to Triple-A recently to work on mechanical issues.
Baseball’s most expensive bullpen, though, has been a disaster this season. Colorado relievers own a 5.23 ERA, the third-worst in baseball after the team spent big on Wade Davis, Bryan Shaw, Michael Dunn and Jake McGee.
It’s a very small sample size given how terrible the group has been overall this year, but a 3.00 ERA for the relievers in July could be a sign of improvement.
If the Rockies’ bullpen can do the job they are being paid to do in order to support a shaky starting pitching staff, the bats would be the determining factor in pushing Colorado to a division title.
San Francisco Giants: 50-48 (4.0 games back)
If you’re looking for the answer as to how the Giants are still in this race, I don’t have the answer for you.
San Francisco is the definition of average. This season, the Giants rank 11th in batting average, 16th in on-base percentage, 23rd in runs, 15th in ERA, 10th in quality starts and 16th in WHIP.
In terms of major stats across baseball, they don’t stand out in one major department.
Consistent seasons from franchise mainstays Brandon Crawford (.292 batting average), Buster Posey (.288) and Brandon Belt (.287) have been huge for their offense.
For a starting rotation that has only seen Madison Bumgarner throw eight starts, the lack of above-average arms is the difference-maker.
Perhaps that’s where the Giants can look at July and be optimistic. Andrew Suarez (3.00 ERA), Derek Holland (3.31) and Bumgarner (3.63) have been fine in three starts each for the month.
Unfortunately, fine isn’t good enough in this division. No hitter with more than 25 plate appearances is hitting at least .300 in July.
For the rest of the season, that’s what the Giants will need to win the division. If they can have one or more players reach a high level the rest of the way, it should be enough to push them out of the mediocrity they are currently heading for. Whether that’s enough to win the division remains to be seen.